By Dr. Andrea L. Braden, FACOG, IBCLC, Lead Clinical Educator, OB/GYN and Acute Hospitalist Medicine, OB/GYN Hospitalist
Raised by Powerful Women
I always wanted to be a doctor. Thanks to the Women’s Equality Movement, I never once doubted my ability to achieve that goal.
I grew up in an idyllic neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama. My mom, the daughter of two Filipino doctors, immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1970s and met my dad while applying for a social security card. We were an extremely close-knit bunch, with both sides of my immediate family anchored tightly together by our matriarch, Dr. Marietta Guevara. Cousins, extended family and close friends would gather on weekends for takeout Chinese food and karaoke while my grandmother flitted in and out of the room in her scrubs. She was simultaneously a highly-esteemed anesthesiologist, a renowned opera singer and a constant presence in our lives.
All of us grandchildren aspired to be doctors just like her. While we all inherited her musical talent, it was a source of pride for me to be the only one who pursued a career in medicine. I will never forget how my Lola, which translates to grandmother in Tagalog, found time to accompany me on my medical school interviews.
“I don’t know how she does it,” people would always say about my Lola.
My father was raised by a powerhouse woman too. Like my Lola, my other grandmother, Laurene Braden, or “Grandmamice,” was ever-present in our lives. A self-taught pianist, talented performer and fashionable socialite, Grandmamice was a living example of how to proudly show up as one’s full, feminine self. While most grandmothers were sitting on the sidelines, my Grandmamice competed on stage and was named Mrs. Senior Jefferson County.
“I don’t know how she does it,” people would always say about my Grandmamice.
Pursuing My Desire to Achieve
Reflecting on Women’s Equality Day, I was surrounded by exemplary women who not only encouraged, but expected me to excel. My mother, Marcie Braden, also took on the roles of church cantor, wife, teacher and mother. Now a retired teacher, she continues to pour out her love to her husband, her Filipino choir buddies, her three grown daughters and her 11 grandchildren.
“I don’t know how she does it,” people always say about my mother.
Until I became an OB/GYN resident, my journey into my chosen roles also felt pretty effortless. The more I succeeded, the more the fire within me grew.
Med school? Check.
Lead singer of a band? Done.
Husband? Locked in.
Baby in residency? How hard could this be?
“I don’t know how she does it,” people always said about me.
Realizing that I Don’t Have to Do It All
I had my first baby, Annalise, 14 years ago on my 28th birthday. A new mother was born and an identity crisis ensued.
Ten months into my parenting journey, I walked out of the resident pre-op clinic with plans to never return to medicine again. I had a new priority and a new purpose. I came to devastating realization that being a “good” doctor was not compatible with being the kind of mother I longed to be. I was tired of crying every day while pumping milk in the call room. I was tired of working 80 hours a week and outsourcing my role as a mother so that I could perform well in my job. Fortunately, a mentor stopped me in my tracks and diagnosed me with postpartum depression. I felt less ashamed of my inability to “do it all,” and realized that I did not have to suffer in silence.
My desire to prevent other moms from suffering the way I did has shaped my career. I am grateful for the women who paved the way for me to have equal access to medical school.
The Women’s Equality Movement was a starting point. The people who become doctors are more diverse than ever, but the systems in which we work don’t always support the advancement of careers for women. Women also end up being underrepresented in leadership.
Shifting Our Focus from Equality to Equity
Now it’s time to shift our focus to equity. What would it mean to give women what they needed to succeed? Imagine what it would look like if we celebrated a woman’s choice to be a mother instead of criticizing her for not being enough of a doctor.
For this year’s Women’s Equality Day, I challenge us to reflect on ways that we can support all women and give voice to the inequities that they still face.